Breathtaking Childhood Realizations

My Teacher is a Monster

A close second to the childhood realization that your teacher does not live at school is this; your teacher is human.

Crazy, I know! But that’s certainly not how it seems to Bobby in My Teacher is a Monster.

Ms. Kirby is a legit maniac-raging, green skinned beast posing as a person.  She stomps, roars and squelches every spark of joy… until Bobby runs into her at the park.

Somehow seeing people out of the little compartments that we mentally box them in can be just enough to jar us into a new paradigm. Or as Susan Philips argued, the participant structure of a given event shapes who we can be in that place. (Just building my nerd cred.)

This is exactly what happens to Bobby as he interacts with Ms. Kirby. She changes, and how he sees her changes. Peter Brown makes full use of this visual: gradually morphing Ms. Kirby from this…

My Teacher is a Monster 2

To this.

My Teacher is a Monster 3

Along the way Ms. Kirby learns to see that Bobby isn’t the monster that she thought he was either. And everyone is wiser, even if they still have their monster moments.


A Tale of Two Piggies

Sidney & Norman

I don’t normally review books that involve God because (generally) they repulse me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-God, on the contrary. But, so many books that include God are models of awful prose and many of the remaining few have horrible (often trite) story-lines.

So, how did these porkers creep past security? It wasn’t simple, but it involves an important moral:

Norman is that self-righteous jerk that some churches seem to spawn… and Sidney is a guy who just can’t keep his life together. Both receive an invitation from God because he has something to tell them.

Holding true to their characters, Norman is confident that God wants to tell him how awesome he is… and Sidney is pretty sure he’s going to get run over by a train.

When they finally meet God, both pigs are in for a shock. Mr. Goody-two-shoes finds out that God loves him. But, he adds, “you’re not as good as you have lead yourself to believe. You’re prideful. You’re selfish. You look down on others, simply because things don’t come as easily for them.” So Norman leaves in tears. The truth hurts.

Sidney observes Norman’s stricken exodus and is really sure he’s doomed. BUT the message is simply this, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Sidney leaves just as stunned as Norman.

This book is brilliant commentary on self-righteously annoying church people, without being hateful. That’s a tough tightrope to walk, but Phil Vischer pulls it off. It also sends a message that, despite church culture’s favoritism toward successful middle class types, God loves and welcomes all who will come.


Tanogram Hype Man

The Warlords Puzzle

The Tangram is so engaging that it doesn’t really need a picture book to entice kids to play. But, if you were seeking an over the top  introduction with a nod to medieval China (and a side of economic social justice) then this is definitely your book.

Virginia Walton Pilegard delivers The Warlord’s Puzzle  in a style often employed for Chinese folk tales. In this one, the ruler (warlord) has a problem (tangram) that no one (wise men, monks, and the affluent) can solve.  Enter the peasant fisherman’s son, to save the day and receive a lavish reward. It’s no shock that we wrap up with the moral of the story. (Just because you’re marginalized by the mainstream culture doesn’t mean you aren’t wise.)

Predictable? Yes. But given the application I have tasked this book with, this is a solid selection.

And here are a couple user friendly tangram sites.


National Geographic Kids


Invisible People

The Can Man

I never saw the “invisible people” at the library. They were not the quintessential smelly, sleeping in public with tattered clothing variety. Security moved “those people” out like they might infect the masses.

No, the invisible people knew how to blend in.  In retrospect, they were definitely there. But, I didn’t have the eyes to see them. After working with a couple of groups that aid the homeless, I know what to look for. But prior to this, they didn’t even exist in my world.

Not so long ago the homeless were invisible in picture books too. It took the efforts of a giant (Eve Bunting) to break that barrier. Her masterwork, Fly Away Home, remains the most balanced representation of homelessness to grace the market.

The Can Man is about more than just one invisible population. Oddly enough, biracial families are virtually nonexistent in picture books, and I’ve never seen a Black/Asian couple and their kids in a picture book before. So when I saw that “Tim”, the boy who befriends The Can Man, came from a biracial family I couldn’t believe it! I literally turned the pages back just to double check. Is this real?! Gratefully, yes. Yes it is, and it’s about time!

So what is the book about?

The Can Man is a heartwarming – if somewhat romanticized – story of homelessness and hope, minus the common issues that often  parallel homelessness: mental illness and drug  addiction.

What Laura E. Williams doesn’t deliver in hard realities, she makes up for by bringing invisible people to the printed page. While most students are not homeless, a growing percentage are biracial. The presence of positive representations of  lived experiences of these families within schools is a critical step in embracing and welcoming populations that often receive neither.

For the hard realities of homelessness, check Invisible People‘s videos and Dennis Cardiff’s chronicling at Gotta Find a Home.

The Doctor is in… (Seuss, not Who)

When a writer dies, their heirs can allow some pretty strange things to happen to their works. It’s anyone’s guess if the author would approve of these extensions to their art.

Either way, I don’t approve of the explosion of posthumous Seuss products. It’s my hangup, I know. But who is this really all about anyway?

Most of these offerings strike me like an over-the-top commercial adulteration of a masterpiece.  And when the Lorax (Mr. Enviromental) was marketing SUVs… Well, let’s just say that misguided shameless greed knows no end.

But back to the Doctor’s real work. These are my top 5 Seuss read alouds selected to celebrate the Doctor’s Birthday (excluding a couple I’ve already covered).

The Lorax

The environmental advocate and his warning to the corporate world.

Cat in the Hat comes back

If only there was nothing that a little “Voom” couldn’t clean up! (But then what would the Lorax do with his free time?)

The Sneetches

We could stop trying to one up each other… but as that’s historically unprecedented, the Sneetches have a lesson for us.

Green Eggs and Ham

Serving up the iconic classic. Don’t even tell me you haven’t read it!

There's a Wocket in My Pocket

Silliness and being OK with who you are, or at least the house you live in.

“My Daddy is in prison”

Knock Knock

For each child who has been forced to endure the emptiness and humiliation of this shattered dream, Daniel Beaty has a  message of hope.

You see, he has been there; and risen above the ashes of bitterness and shame. So he would know; and tell it like it is.

For the record: Beaty originally conceived Knock Knock as spoken word. He performed it (below) for Def Jam Poetry. Paired to Bryan Collier’s signature illustrations, this books packs emotional punch.

My favorite line (that didn’t make it into the book), “Yes we are our father’s sons and daughters; but we are not their choices.

Kid Drama 101

Matthew and Tilly

My students have plenty of drama: the, “I’m NOT your friend anymore!!!” type of drama (often in spite of the fact that they were BFFs ten second ago).

For those who could use a refresher with, “I’m sorry” and, “I forgive you” Matthew and Tilly deliver the goods: but not before having a refreshingly authentic, “You’re so stupid!” type of argument in the course of their day. They end up playing alone; and find out that it’s not much fun.

I love that Beth Peck painted a realistic urban setting complete with small local shops, graffiti and houses stacked up against each other to illustrate this multiracial message about conflict that so many need to hear.